Will Technology Surpass Human Brains?

The takeaway: While artificial intelligence continues to advance, it does not have the ability to replace humans in situations that require creative and flexible thinking.

Has Artificial Technology Progressed Enough to Replace Humans?

A recent discussion on Engagement Optimization started by Pulkit Jain brought up an unnerving question: Can technology surpass human brains? The technology he’s referring to is artificial intelligence (AI). This technology – which, in recent years, has taken the form of self-driving cars at Uber and talk technology like Siri or Watson – has achieved some amazing things. But will it make humans obsolete?

The Fear of Artificial Intelligence

This fear of AI isn’t new. When Deep Blue, a computer made by IBM, engaged in a match against Gary Kasparov, the world’s best chess player, the world held its breath. Kasparov said he was playing on behalf of all humans, according to Time. He was thrown off balance by the computer’s human playing style, leading him to forfeit the match to the computer. A piece of technology had beaten the best chess player in the world. That was in 1997 – and artificial intelligence technology has only continued to move forward.


As programming for AI has gotten better, we keep circling back to the question science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov grappled with in their stories: Can technology surpass human brains? And what does that mean if it can?


The short answer is: not right now. Technology is not presently able to outsmart humans. As ColdFusion noted in its YouTube series about AI, these smart computers excel at certain tasks, but none have mastered the “good at everything” element.


We are creating AI that can recognize general principles and apply them. They’re savants, good with memorizing swaths of information, but struggling to apply that knowledge to changing situations. And that is the current downfall of AI – and the continuing strength of humans.

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Turning right on red is a sign of flexible human thinking.

We can take our general knowledge of different subjects and apply it in atypical situations – think of the popularity of Malcolm Gladwell and his ability to link two seemingly unrelated topics. In addition, human learning is flexible. We can adapt the rules we’ve learned to changing situations. Take stopping at a red light, for example. We know we can turn right on a red light if there is no oncoming traffic. All a self-driving car sees is a red light, so it waits until the light changes (much to the chagrin of the human drivers behind it).


Another human benefit? Our brains can think creatively. While it is impressive that artificial intelligence can create a trailer for a horror movie, AI machines are having a harder time developing their own content.


That doesn’t mean researchers aren’t preparing for the day that AI will gain flexible and creative thought. Stephen Hawking developed the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at Cambridge University. Tech entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, invested $1 billion dollars to OpenAI, a nonprofit looking to advance AI safely.


Importantly, a large part of how AI progresses depends on how humans – both AI users and creators – respond. As Altman mentioned, technology will continue to move forward – the only question is how we will keep up.


How do you feel about AI getting smarter?

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